RLR MSport put on a dominant display in the Ligier European Series Aragon Heat, resiliently bouncing back from a race one retirement to reach the top step of the JS2 R podium for the first time in 2023 with rookie Maximus Mayer (25-26 August).

As in previous rounds, RLR MSport and Mayer set the early pace in the JS2 R class, holding sway for much of the first free practice session at MotorLand Aragon, before breaching the 2m10s barrier and concluding FP2 as the second-fastest team-driver combination.

Mayer duly locked in a front row grid slot for the first of two Ligier European Series races at MotorLand Aragon with a time of 2m10.716s, but the Alicante-domiciled driver got the jump on his opponents away from the start and made great gains to build a nine-second lead during only the first three laps of the 3.32-mile Aragon circuit.

The 17-year-old continued pumping in class-best lap times and extended his advantage to more than 28 seconds during the first stint, to more than negate his longer minimum pit stop time for being a sole Silver-graded driver.

He boxed on lap 12 and the victory looked like a sure thing, until his in-car fire extinguisher went off, resulting in a spin and forcing the #10 machine back to the pits, where it was retired.

However, Mayer had found a little extra in Qualifying 2 to seal the race two pole position on a 2m10.009s, providing a second shot at victory on his home soil.

A blistering launch from P1 saw him get in among the JS P4 pack and once again establish an early cushion over his nearest JS2 R opponents, but a Safety Car destroyed his 16-second buffer and left him with a lot of work to do in the remaining 40 minutes.

Naturally, Mayer stepped up to the challenge and pulled away by some 15 seconds before pitting on lap 14 and, while it wasn’t enough to keep him in the lead after the stops, he quickly reclaimed the initiative from the #43 LR Motorsport entry to counter the disappointment he and RLR MSport felt earlier in the day with a well-deserved victory.

“I’m really happy with how the Ligier European Series Aragon Heat panned out,” said Mayer. “I went into it feeling positive about what we could do. We couldn’t maximise the package in Qualifying 1 because we didn’t have any tyres due to lock-ups in the previous races, but in Q2 I was able to manage things a bit better and seal pole position.

“The first race started brilliantly, though, as I got up into the lead and pulled away. It started drizzling, which suited me because I’m confident in my ability to adapt and drive quickly in wet conditions. It’s a real shame the fire extinguisher went off and span me around, but I immediately switched all of my focus to race two. The only aim was to win and the Safety Car made it more challenging to open up a gap before the pit stops. While I fell to second, I soon got back up into P1 and then settled into a nice steady rhythm to maintain the gap to the end and win. It’s an emotional weekend because it’s my first victory, and I hope to carry this form on to the next round at Spa, where we will give it our all.”

JS P4 pairing Haytham Qarajouli and Ian Aguilera improved from the bottom half of the top ten to fourth between first and second practice, and they went on to replicate those performances by qualifying P8 for the first Ligier contest and P4 for race two.

The following day (Saturday 26 August) in Heat 1, Qarajouli initially progressed to a solid sixth place but tumbled back to tenth overall when he served a drive-through penalty for a start line incident.

Light rain began falling and the track was declared wet, but the Kuwait racer pushed on and engaged the #1 Team Virage machine in a fight for ninth place, which he won before the pit window opened and the #75 prototype was passed to teammate Aguilera.

The Mexican teenager inherited P9 during the final quarter of the hour-long race and, following a brief Safety Car, picked up fourth at the expense of the troubled #16 and #17 Pegasus Racing, and #48, #1 and #60 Team Virage cars during a short sprint to the flag.

In an attacking start from fourth on the race two grid, 16-year-old Aguilera threatened the top three as the field navigated the first sequence of corners.

He held station and pressed the #4 HPRacing by Monza Garage machine hard for third, but the fifth-placed #7 LR Motorsport car looked ominous and eventually found an opening around the outside of Turns 2 and 3.

Unperturbed, the RLR MSport driver stayed in the fight until the driver-change on lap 15, an extended minimum pit stop time costing them track position.

Qarajouli, though, quickly progressed from sixth to fourth on the road, a late Safety Car putting him within reach of the top three overall but traffic preventing him from getting close enough to launch an attack for a podium result.

“I feel I made good progress throughout the weekend at MotorLand Aragon, having not tested at the track before,” said Qarajouli. “I found chunks of time in each session and the pace at the start of Race 1 was good, as I managed to stay with the lead group until I was handed a drive-through penalty, which ruined my stint.

“My performance in Race 2 was much better because I kept up with the leaders until the very end, where we finished fourth. The car felt good all weekend and we definitely had the pace for a podium. Thanks to RLR MSport for a great team effort in hot and exhausting conditions.”

Aguilera said: “The Ligier European Series Aragon Heat was very positive and we collected some good points for finishing fourth in both races. A drive-through penalty early on made race one tricky, but we delivered a great comeback from ninth to fourth, and the second race was difficult but very fun, including a lot of fighting for a place on the podium. I’m satisfied to have finished P4 and I hope we can carry this momentum forward into the next round at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.”